Around 250 people joined a protest called by the RMT rail union outside parliament in London today, Wednesday. It marked a year of struggle on the Southern rail network by train guards.
Southeastern train guard Jenny explained to Socialist Worker, “The role of the guard is under threat and with that comes a threat to passengers.
“Another issue is that disabled or infirm people have to give 24 hours notice to travel with assistance. They should be able to turn up and travel just like everybody else.”
Miriam Binder from Disabled People Against Cuts spoke to the rally. She said, “Every train should have a driver and a safety critical guard as a minimum. Turn up and go is the right of over 10 million disabled people in Britain. Why should I have to forgo spontaneity because of Southern rail?”
She talked about how there were now 33 unstaffed stations on Southern and that the experience of wheelchair passengers “abandoned at unstaffed stations” is now common.
Miriam said moves to extend driver only operation (DOO) “must be fought”.
Jenny agreed, “It’s not just an issue on Southern but it’s a threat everywhere.”
The Tories have decided DOO should be the default operating method. Jenny said, “There are other train operators trying to roll this out. All we are asking for is the guarantee of a second safety critical person on the train to secure the safety of passengers.”
The Northern network is set to see another 24-hour strike against DOO on Friday this week.
Northern workers held a coordinated strike earlier this month with workers on Southern and Merseyrail. “The strike was rock solid right across the Northern network,” said RMT national executive member Steve Shaw.
“At Merseyrail not a single guard or driver booked on for work, with members of the Aslef drivers' union refusing to cross the RMT picket lines. On Northern we saw some of the same, which we can build on.”
Tommy drives trains on Northern. The RMT member called on “all organisations and individuals to join our campaign in whatever way they can—you’ll be welcome”.
The RMT backs a “maximum vote for Labour to defeat the Tories and achieve a Corbyn-led Labour government”. There was strong support for the rally from Labour MPs.
One of them was shadow chancellor John McDonnell. In summing up he said, “The reason the Tories and their friends want to destroy Jeremy Corbyn is because he threatens everything that they stand for at the moment. He has stood by us, now we have to stand by him.”
Tommy rejoined the Labour Party after Corbyn became leader and he’s excited. He said, “Over the last 10-15 years I’ve noticed loads of people saying that all the parties are the same.
“But in this election there’s a stark choice between austerity, in the name of making rich people richer, and Jeremy Corbyn. A key issue is the pledge to repeal the Trade Union Act.”
There is always a pressure from Labour-backing trade unionists to throw everything at the election effort but Tommy disagrees that industrial disputes should be put on hold for elections.
He said, “It’s our democratic right to protest and to withdraw our labour. I defend my right to take industrial action as part of the democratic process during this general election campaign.”